Book covers. Pointers, pitfalls and inspirations

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“Never judge a book by its cover” goes the proverb. But in reality, of course, the first impression we get from a book is aesthetic. Think how many times you’ve been in a bookshop and picked up a book because the cover caught your eye. And think about the covers of books from the great publishing houses: the colours, fonts and formats they use create a language designed to speak to the target audience.

Cover design, then, should not be overlooked: it can make or break the initial encounter between the book and its (perhaps future) reader. Here we look at some things to bear in mind when designing a cover.

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL COVER

A good cover is coherent and harmonious, it fits the content, catches the eye, arouses curiosity and encourages people to open the book. Great, but how do you do all this? We’ll run through it, step by step.

How to ensure you have a coherent cover

The person designing the cover of a book must know what the book is about. It may seem trivial, but it’s worth remembering. If you’re not designing the cover of your book yourself, make sure that whoever is doing it has all the information they need about it:

  • A brief summary of the text
  • A few significant excerpts
  • A description of the moods, people and places if it’s fiction

Choosing the cover image or images

Whether it’s a photograph or illustration, it’s important that the cover image triggers an emotion, a thought or the desire to find out more.

Remember, when designing a cover, simplicity and immediacy are the watchwords. Images don’t have to describe the text, they just have to evoke it. Trying to cram too much into the cover risks compromising its compositional quality and impact.

So keep in mind the words of the designers at Penguin Random House, who give you a taster of the art of cover design in this video.

Proportions. How large should the cover text be?

The key to a harmonious cover lies in the right balance between images and text. If the title and author’s name are too big compared with the image, the book risks “shouting” with little elegance. An often-used rule of thumb is that the title should be slightly larger than the author’s name. Of course, this is just a convention, one that can be subverted if necessary, depending on the design you have in mind. What matters is to always make informed choices.

Font choice: more important than you’d think

For those who aren’t design professionals, which font to use may seem of minor importance. Wrong! Not all fonts are easy to read and not all fonts are consistent with the style of your book. For example: few would use Gothic script on the cover of a romance novel, unless they wanted to surprise or provoke the reader. In general, if you want to play it safe, opt for a simple, easy-to-read font, whether serif (like Trajan and Bodoni) or sans serif (like Helvetica or Myriad).

Lettering, then, plays an important role. So much so that, on some covers, it replaces images altogether. Like the cover of “Creative Lettering and Beyond”, which is one big interplay between different fonts.

Let’s wrap things up with a look at the best of the best, as chosen by cover designer and typographer David Pearson for the CNN listicle The 10 greatest covers of all time. Here’s the cover that took top spot – check the others out for yourself.

It’s the cover by David Pelham (art director for Penguin Books at the time) for the 1972 edition of the novel “A Clockwork Orange”.

Remember: a book is judged by its cover!

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